Many people today ask the question how does God and man relate to one another. Scripture answers this scripture by showing us that the relationship between God and man is based on an agreement called a covenant. Covenants are seen common theme seen throughout the Old and New Testament. One can even see the name of both the “Old and New Testament” speaks to this idea of covenant since the word “testament” is Latin for the word covenant. A covenant is a contract or agreement between two or more parties. Covenant was the avenue that God has chosen to communicate to his people, to redeem them, and to guarantee them eternal life in Jesus. This idea of a covenantal relationship between God and man is so basic and overwhelmingly predominant throughout the scriptures. We will observe three key biblical covenants and how these have been fulfilled in the New Testament scriptures. Though these are not all the covenants in scripture these key covenants will allow for a fuller understanding of the unity of Scripture the of salvation history of man.
Within the scriptures we can see two different kinds of covenants, Suzerain/Vassal treaties and unconditional covenants. Suzerain/Vassal treaties involved some form of kind, a suzerain, and a vassal state. This was often a relationship were the king was obeyed and loved and the vassal was to work for the king, in turn receiving protection. The Sinaitic, or Mosaic covenant are great examples of what an example of a suzerainty treaty would look like. At Sinai the people of Israel told God that they agree to keep the law that God gave to the, or suffer the consequences. This type of treaty was common in ancient politics at this time so it isn’t surprising that God had used this type of treaty to relate to His people.
We will first unpack the Abrahamic Covenant in Genesis 12. This convent is the springboard to the whole development of the great nation of Israel and even to the book of Revelation; it is the story of the development and fulfillment of this promise given to Abraham. This covenant was a contract between God and Abraham, where they become His people and He became their God. We can see the promise as follows in Genesis 12:1-3:
“Now the Lord had said to Abram: ‘Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’” (Genesis 12:1-3)
One may observe the Abrahamic Covenant as in part a Suzerain-Vassal covenant, as God required first that Abraham get up, leave his home and his family, and follow God to the land. However the main focus of this covenant is an unconditional covenant as God’s promise to bless Abraham and bless the entire nation though his lineage (Pieters 30). One can even see that God promises this covenant and then Abraham asks God to have a “cutting ceremony”. This was a common practice in the culture of time. Furthermore, it is important to note that this covenant is also a literal covenant in which the promises should be understood literally. In addition this land convent that is promised should be understood in its literal interpretation, and should not be understood as a figure of heaven. Finally, it is important to observe that this is also an everlasting covenant. The promises that God made to Israel are eternal. In addition, it is interesting to note that this one sided covenant is because God’s is gracious in his dealing with men and seeks no oaths from us. Abrahams part was to embrace God’s covenant. The Abrahamic promise is even referred to in the New Testament as “the promise” (Acts 2:39; 26:6; Romans 4:13; Ephesians 2:12).
God’s avenue of fulfilling the Abrahamic Covenant was though God blessing Abraham by giving him land in Genesis 13:14–17. In addition, God blessed him spiritually in Genesis 13:8, 18; 14:22, 23; 21:22. God also gave Abraham many descendants in Genesis 22:17; 49:3–28. The bigger element of this covenant though is the future fulfillment with the Messiah’s kingdom rule (Pieters 45). It should be pointed out that some of the Abrahamic Covenant has not yet been fulfilled. For example, Israel as a nation will possess their land in the future. Scripture such as Ezekiel 20:33–37 forestalls a future blessing of Israel of her land. The book of Ezekiel speaks to a future day when Israel is restored to the land. Some say that this may be filled in a future Millennial Kingdom of God. The Abrahamic Covenant finds its ultimate fulfillment in the result of the return of Messiah to rescue and bless His people, Israel. It is through the nation of Israel that God promised to bless the all the nations of the world. That ultimate blessing will be the forgiveness of sins and Messiah’s kingdom reign on earth.
In addition to this convent we see another major covenant that is fulfilled in the New Testament is the Davidic Covenant in 2 Samuel 7. The establishment of the Davidic Covenant in the Old Treatment represented a supreme point of the history of redemption prior to the actual coming of Christ. God gave a promise to David that his descendants should have an everlasting kingdom and be known as his sons. We can observe that this is an unconditional covenant made between God and David. Also one can see through which God promises David and Israel that the Messiah (Jesus Christ) would come from the lineage of David and the tribe of Judah and would establish a kingdom that would endure forever.
Scholars such as Michael A. Grisanti states that even though the Hebrew term for “covenant”, is not used in the passage it is make clear that it provides the initial picture of the Davidic Covenant. The Davidic Covenant points out several key promises that are made to David and his decedents. First God reaffirms the promise of the land that He made in the Abrahamic and Mosaic Covenants. As stated before, these are yet to be fulfilled in our present day. We can see this very fact when we read this promise in 2 Samuel 7:10, “I will provide a place for my people Israel and will plant them so that they can have a home of their own and no longer be disturbed. Wicked people will not oppress them anymore.” Next, God promises that David’s son will succeed him as king of Israel. This son whom we know as Solomon would build the temple. This promise can be seen in 2 Samuel 7:12–13 when the Lord says, “I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name.” Solomon would be the assurance for the rest of David’s descendants and would erect the Temple (7:13). Yahweh also guarantees that Davidic descendant would always be available to sit on the royal throne. We see this this this promise when it is written, “I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever” (2 Samuel 7:13), and “Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever” (2 Samuel 7:16). One could see that there is a huge change now in this promise. God speaks of an everlasting kingdom that another Son of David would rule forever and build a lasting House. This is a clear reference to the Jesus the Messiah called the Son of David in Matthew 21:9. As with Abraham in Gen 12:1-3, one could see that Yahweh promised David an eternal offspring and possession of land. If David’s decedents choose to be loyal and lived in accordance with the conditions of the Mosaic Covenant, they would be granted the full enjoyment of the provisions offered them through the covenant. However, we see that they did not fulfill this promise. But though David’s decedents did not follow the Mosaic Law and had to forfeit the promised divine protection and the right to the land, David house will still rule forever on the throne. As Michael A. Grisanti goes into more detail by stating,
“Even though Yahweh promises to cause disloyal sons to forfeit their opportunity to enjoy the provisions of this covenant, He affirms that the Davidic house and throne will endure forever, giving the hope that Yahweh would one day raise up a loyal son who would satisfy Yahweh’s demands for covenant conformity. (Grisanti 243)
Thus, this helps us better understand how this covenant is fulfilled today and still yet to be fulfilled. We can see this convent fulfilled in scripture with the birth of Jesus. When the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary in Luke 1:31–33, he said:
“Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
We see from this passage that the promise to David that his descendant would rule over the house of Jacob forever is fulfilled in Jesus Christ. As the Son of David (Romans 1:3) and the Lord of David (Matthew 22:45; Psalm 110:1). Jesus now reigns as king in heaven over the true and blameless house of Israel. David functions as the mediator of the New Covenant. More broadly, the New Covenant appears to be the covenant that brings to fruition all the preceding covenants (Grisanti 249).
Finial, the last covenant we will observe is the New Covenant. This covenant was announced by the prophet Jeremiah shortly before the dissolution of the nation which had been established on the basis of the Old Sinai Covenant (Grisanti 250). Despite the failure of God’s people to live up to the covenants that were made to the previous generations, God graciously decided to embrace what is known as the “New Covenant” with His people. We see this New Covenant established in Jeremiah 31:31-34 when the author writes:
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people… For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jeremiah 31:31-34)
This important passage of scripture seems to gather up a number of prophetic passaged in which this New Covenant was mentioned and referred too (Isaiah 42:6; 49:8; 54:10; 55:4; 61:8 Ezekiel 37;26). This new covenant was unlike the covenant that he Lord had made with Israel’s and Judah’s ancestors from the exodus generation. This new covenant was with a different generation that had already undergone spiritual return and had moved to a different place of captivity since the previous covenant had been broken. This covenant was what the Old Testament was pointing forward too. The very same promised of the worldwide blessing which were first given to the Abraham. This New Covenant is major proof of God’s faithfulness to Israel. We see in this covenant that God will forgive the sins of His people (Jeremiah 31:34b). Also, He would give them the ability and the desire to follow Him and would untimely change their hearts and give them a desire for obedience to His Word. (Jeremiah 31:34). This is the answer to Israel’s promise received through the old covenants promise of a messiah who would be their Messiah. As stated before this promise finds its ultimate fulfillment in Jesus Christ (Hebrews 8:7-13; 9; 10:11-24), as it is through Him that a believer has the opportunity receive forgiveness of their sins and is granted the Holy Spirit to live within in them. Even though this covenant answers some questions we are to note that there will be time yet in the future when the people of Israel will be brought back to their land of promise and given hearts and lives which will be in tune with God. This may come when Christ comes back to set his Kingdom here on earth (An introduction to the New Covenant 33). We can see Jesus confirm that his blood ratified the New Covenant when Jesus says in Luke 22:20, “This cup which is poured out for you in the New Covenant in My Blood.”
In conclusion, though diving into the Old Testament biblical covenants one can see how these covenants have been fulfilled in the New Testament scriptures. The covenants represent the working out in history of God’s redemptive purpose for the human race in a world of law and order into which sin has entered. Helping believers today see the redemption history of man and the promises and grace of God even from the time of Abraham. Believers today still have the joy of seeing the remainder of the covenants to be fulfilled when the Lord returns and established the kingdom age, at which the covenant will be completely operational.